Jimmy Butler has now left the (Target Center) building, and the Minnesota Timberwolves can now move forward into an even more uncertain abyss.
The Wolves finally agreed to a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers involving forwards Dario Saric and Robert Covington as the primary players of value. Following the trade, team coach and (likely lame duck) president Tom Thibodeau confidently suggested the “offer met some of the things we were looking for.” And though the key word therein was “some,” the players acquired are young and inexpensive, thus providing not only hope on the court, but also some coins back into Wolves owner Glen Taylor’s pocket.
The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 7, and more on-court change remains a possibility, should the new acquisitions not parlay into immediate winning results.
The void left by the exit of star guard-forward Butler most critically involves 21.3 points per game, a hard-nosed defender, and the hyper-awareness and ability to seize the moment in tight game-winning situations. That’s what Butler did. That’s why the Wolves brought him aboard last year. The experiment worked to the tune of the team’s first playoff berth in 14years.
Butler’s void leaves a wide-open stage for Wolves players, new and established, to make a career changing impact for the franchise, as well as their own good names as players and teammates.
The Wolves cornerstone player is center Karl-Anthony Towns. Both he and young cohort, small forward Andrew Wiggins, recently signed max contracts for $190 million and $146.5 million respectively. These extensions likely fed Butler’s feelings of discontent with the Wolves organization; in that those contracts left little money remaining for the player who “single-handedly” carried the team to the playoffs in the 2017-18 season.
The two young team leaders will have to demonstrate that they firmly picked up the veteran lessons Butler put down on the game winning scorer’s report in their presence.
Towns and Wiggins are not alone in the challenge to replace Butler’s production. The stark emergence of nine-year veteran guard Derrick Rose means a security blanket is available to usher in the duo’s hopes of leading the Wolves to the playoffs, sans Butler. Rose shocked and inspired the entire NBA scoring 50 points in the Halloween contest versus the Utah Jazz. Rose’ games following that explosion have suggested a true reemergence by the 2011 league MVP, rather than an anomaly by a 30-year-old veteran having one last lucky hurrah.
At present, Wolves fans generally know what they can minimally expect from their established stars. They can be good; Towns potentially dominant. Thus, it will be the contributions of Saric and Covington that will truly spell what the ceiling for the team is through the next two months of evaluation.
Covington’s gritty defensive ability and general hustle should help compensate for the similar elements lost by Butler. But it will undoubtedly be the contributions of Saric that can deliver the most valuable game-changing impact upon the Wolves near – and potentially long-term – future.
At 6’10”, and with only two years NBA experience, Saric provides the expected fluid abilities of a former EuroLeague Finals MVP. Saric’s six standout years in international play was formerly the great hope of the 76ers franchise. The Wolves now adopt that hope. It is likely the only hope of assuaging the missing first round draft pick desired in the trade package. This is likely what Thibodeau mostly meant when qualifying “some” of the things the Wolves were looking for in the trade.